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AHQ INSIDER Lake Hartwell (GA/SC) Spring 2021 Fishing Report – Updated May 6

  • by Jay

May 6

Lake Hartwell water levels are up to 661.58 (full pool is 660.00) but the lake remains very clear. Morning surface water temperatures are around 69-71 degrees. 

Going into last weekend’s Skeeter Challenge on Hartwell Guide Brad Fowler didn’t think the bass were acting right, and nothing that he saw in the tournament changed his opinion. The herring spawn itself was wide open, but the bass were just not set up on points the way they usually are. They weren’t gorging in the morning, and there is some speculation that the fish are just getting too educated with all the pressure this time of year. When Brad did find a really big group of good fish stacked up they would not eat.   

Part of the problem may have been that ten days ago the more aggressive fish on the herring points were pre-spawn, but those fish have now started spawning. There are a ton of fish that can be seen on beds, including a few good ones, but a lot of the fish at this time of year are also spawning in areas where you will never see them. It remains to be seen whether the bite gets better in week or two.

You can certainly still catch plenty of small fish, and as usual there are lots of fish up to about two pounds that can be caught on a drop shot. 

Unlike the bass the hybrid and striped bass have been all over the herring spawn on Lake Hartwell, but Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that for the last couple of days the combination of the cold front and extremely high water levels has messed up the herring spawn and the early morning bite. They had been catching fish on live bait in 3-8 feet of water from the pre-dawn hours to about 45 minutes after dawn, and soon that pattern should come back because the herring spawn is far from over.  

Overall fish are still in the rivers but coming out, and in the last few weeks they have gone from, for example, catching fish within sight of the Keowee dam to finding them at the mouth of Keowee River. The same is going on in the Tugaloo and other creeks and rivers. 

With the dawn herring bite on hold right now the best pattern is pulling free lines off the sides of points, and there have also been some fish caught on down-lines out to about 25 feet in the same areas. This has generally been the daytime pattern for a couple weeks and should stay that way. 

A nice hybrid caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton
A nice hybrid caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton

The blue catfish really do seem to have disappeared out to the timber, but Captain Bill Plumley reports that for right now the flatheads have also been absent. However, when water temperatures pick up a few degrees then fishing large baits around trees in 15-20 feet of water in the creeks should work for flatties. While you can fish for them in the dead of night, fishing around dawn from about 3:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. is another good time to target them.

It’s still very hard to beat the channel catfish bite, and they can be found in 2-20 feet of water across the lake. They will take cut bait, worms, shrimp and more, and soon processed dip baits will be very good. 

The bream fishing remains very good in the shallows, and this week Captain Bill caught 43 in one short trip. Bluegill and shellcracker are both looking for shallow sandy spots where they will eventually spawn. Worms are hard to beat.

April 29

Lake Hartwell water levels are still well over full pool at 661.11 (full pool is 660.00). Water temperatures are in the mid to upper 60s at daylight and the lake remains very clear. 

It’s a strange time for bass fishing on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that it’s unclear exactly what is going on with the fish right now. There are fish on beds, plenty of post-spawn fish around, and Brad’s tournament partner Brock weighed three or four pre-spawn fish last weekend. Blueback are also everywhere, but the fishing is just not wide open right now.

The problem could be that there are so many different patterns right now that no single pattern is very good, and it could be that we are somewhere between a post-spawn funk and the blueback bite getting really strong in the next few days once water temperatures rise. However, another explanation is that there could be so much pressure right now that the fish are just not acting right. If you see a boat pull off of a point and don’t immediately get on it someone else will!

The best bet is that in the next few days there will be a better herring spawn bite on points with flukes, Spooks, Sammys and sometimes shakey heads, although just how good it will get with all the pressure is anyone’s guess. Brad thinks there should also be some fish getting back on brush although he has not seen it yet. 

A nice largemouth caught on Chip Hamilton's boat while striper fishing
A nice largemouth caught on Chip Hamilton's boat while striper fishing

The hybrid and striped bass are on the move on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that fish are slowly starting to come out of the rivers. There are still fish in the rivers, but more are moving out each day. At the same time the herring spawn is getting better each day, and in the shallows for the first two or three hours each morning striper can be caught around red clay points and sometimes rocks. By 8 or 8:30 that bite is over. 

After that you can still catch fish pulling free-lines in about 15-20 feet of water in the same areas, and when the bite is a little slow Chip will put out planer boards as well. When they are hitting the free-lines well he sometimes finds the planer boards are more trouble than the benefits. If they detect fish congregated while pulling free-lines then he may drop some down-lines, but generally there is not much of a down-line bite right now. 

The blue catfish bite that was pretty good has slowed, and Captain Bill Plumley reports that it is normal that by the middle of April or early May the blues will start to go back deep. You generally have a two-month window beginning in about mid-February. 

At the same time there has been some action for flatheads, and fishing large baits around trees in 15-20 feet of water in the creeks is the best pattern. While you can fish for them in the dead of night fishing around dawn from about 3:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. is another good time to target them.

But if you just want to catch fish it’s hard to beat the channel catfish bite right now, and the channels are really moving around in 2-20 feet of water across the lake.  They will take cut bait, worms, shrimp and more, and soon processed dip baits will be very good. 

The bream fishing is just starting to get good in the shallows, and bluegill and shellcracker are both looking for shallow sandy spots where they will eventually spawn.  Worms are hard to beat and Captain Bill has caught some big shellcracker in the last few days.

April 16

Lake Hartwell water levels are still well over full pool at 661.16 (full pool is 660.00). Water temperatures are around 66 at daylight and the lake is pretty clear.  

There’s a lot going on in the bass world on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that there are still a ton of fish all over the banks spawning. In some clear areas he reports that you either see fish on the beds or they are not up, and when Brad and tournament partner Brock Taylor finished 6th in the Palmetto tournament everything they caught came off the bed. The supply of pre-spawn fish is rapidly diminishing. However, Brad notes that in some areas with colored water you can just go down the bank and fish in pockets with floating worms and other soft plastics. 

Particularly early in the morning the blueback herring spawning is also getting underway, and there are a lot of little spotted bass ganging up on the herring that will take the usual baits including flukes, Spooks, Sammys and more. However, he is not yet seeing the groups of several good fish that should feed on herring soon.

With the super high water levels don’t be surprised if the herring spawn plays out a little differently this year. Brad says that he is seeing herring spawning on traditional red clay points, but they are also in unusual areas such as dock walkways that would usually be out of the water in main lake pockets. 

It’s a great time for hybrid and striped bass fishing on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that fish are piled up in the backs of creeks and rivers.  The action is good and with the herring spawn progressing it’s getting better every day.  

Right at dawn they are super shallow in 3-10 feet of water off points, and when the sun gets up they are dropping out to 20-25 feet of water.  In the evenings they pull shallower again.  Chip’s boat is mainly fishing with free lines, but there is also some good down-line action. And early and late you can also cast Pulse jigs and scrounger heads with flukes. 

The backs of the Seneca and Tugaloo have a lot of fish but also a lot of boats, while the creeks may have slightly lower numbers of fish but less pressure.

Chip Hamilton put some happy anglers on this nice hybrid this week
Chip Hamilton put some happy anglers on this nice hybrid this week

Captain Bill Plumley reports that he is also seeing a ton of fish way up the Keowee, and in addition to the other techniques you can also catch fish by pulling the boat up on the banks and casting live bait or cut bait out the back. 

It’s a great time for crappie fishing if you like shallow action, and Captain Bill Plumley reports that they are in the middle of the spawn right now. Fishing in 2-3 feet of water around most any shoreline cover with minnows or jigs will catch fish. 

The catfish action continues to improve, and Captain Bill Plumley reports that the channels are really moving around and you can catch them about anywhere on about anything. In 2-20 feet of water they will take cut bait, worms, processed dip baits and more.  The blue catfish are shallow in the creeks, and anchoring cut bait in 8-10 feet is the best pattern. 

April 2

Lake Hartwell water levels are still well over full pool at 661.39 (full pool is 660.00). While water temperatures had been in the upper 50s and low 60s, with two nights in the upper 20s they are dropping fast. There is trash everywhere and certain creeks such as some at the upper end of the Seneca are muddy right now. 

The lake has been off-limits to Guide Brad Fowler in the run-up to the Palmetto Boat Center tournament this weekend, but for some time now there have been a lot of bass relatively shallow on Lake Hartwell.  That’s not to say that you can’t still wear them out in deep water, but for anglers who want to fish shallow there are plenty on the banks.

In the colored water areas a spinnerbait has been working well, while in clearer water a floating worm or Senko is good. 

Sometimes the herring spawn and the bass spawn overlap, and before this cold front Brad thinks that the herring were on the verge of starting to spawn, too.  If they do spawn while the water is very high then they will not be as predictable as usual because instead of spawning mainly on points and shoals high water puts them everywhere. 

A more complete report will follow after the tournament.

The hybrid and striped bass have finally made their move on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that right now most of the fish are in the backs of rivers and creeks in 3-20 feet of water. They are mostly relating to the sides of the bank, and when the bait goes shallow they push up to follow it. Planer boards and free-lines are both working, but Chip’s boat is also using the trolling motor anchor and flipping free-lines to the fish. 

The extreme back of the Tugaloo is a bit colder and not holding as many fish, but the Seneca, 12-Mile, 18-Mile, Coneross and all the creeks near the dam are fishing well. 

This weather isn’t really helping the crappie action, and Captain Bill Plumley reports that the fish are just confused. As a result they haven’t really moved to the banks yet, and this cold front should delay them even more. Look in 10-12 feet of water until temperatures heat up.    

The winter catfish slump is officially over, and Captain Bill Plumley reports that his boat has caught some nice blues as they get into the creeks or stage in the mouths. The best action has been in about 40 feet of water on cut herring or gizzard shad. 

When the water warms a few more degrees the channels will be easy to catch on about any bait from worms to cut herring to chicken livers, and the blues will move shallower. The flatheads should bite better when temperatures hit about 67 but get good when water temperatures are around 70. 

March 19

Lake Hartwell water levels are up to 659.85 (full pool is 660.00). There remains stained water in some creeks but overall the lake is clear. Morning surface water temperatures are about 55-57 degrees. 

In the last week Guide Brad Fowler reports that bass have moved up pretty well on Lake Hartwell, and although he has not actually seen any largemouth on beds yet he predicts that the next two to three weeks there will be a lot of activity on the banks. Right now there are a lot of fish cruising in pockets or staging just outside of them, although a large group of spots also stays deep well into April and they don’t all come up at once. Ultimately the spots will spawn on red clay points, flats, and shoals where you will not usually see them.

In the colored water a spinnerbait or shallow-running crankbait is the best bet for largemouth, while in the clear water a floating worm, fluke or Senko is best.  For deeper spots shakey head worms or another slow-moving bait that you can work on the bottom is best. 

The hybrid and striped bass bite is continuing to improve on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that they still want free-lines the most. Very early in the morning and late in the evening there has also been some schooling with spots, hybrids and stripers. 

The majority of fish are still in the middle section of creeks, although a handful of fish have also been caught in the very backs in a sign that a few are already moving that way. If the water temperatures continue to rise then very soon they should make a significant move.

There have also been some good reports on free-lines in creeks near the dam. 

The crappie spawn is close at hand but not here yet, and Captain Bill Plumley reports that when water temperatures hit about 60-62 degrees he expects the spawn to get started. For now there are still some groups of shallower fish, but there is also good action in the creeks channels around brush in 15-20 feet of water. They are also doing well long-line trolling in the creeks. 

There has been significant improvement with the catfish this week, and Captain Bill Plumley reports that the big blues are simultaneously moving out of the very deep water and starting to feed more often. He has been catching them in 25-30 feet of water in the creeks on a mix of cut bait including frozen shad and carp, and in the last week he has caught multiple fish in the 20 to 30 pound range. 

A big one caught this week by Captain Bill Plumley
A big one caught this week by Captain Bill Plumley

 

March 10

Lake Hartwell water levels are at 658.96 (full pool is 660.00). There remains stained water in some creeks but overall the lake is clear. Morning surface water temperatures are about 51-54 degrees. 

Particularly for the last couple of days we have had some warm highs, but Guide Brad Fowler reports that the key to dramatically raising the lake temperature is avoiding cold nights, and particularly in the earlier part of the week it was still freezing each overnight. As a result Lake Hartwell bass are a little behind those on some other lakes, including ones like Murray that Brad has also been fishing. 

A good pattern to run right now is to start out fishing in ditches with 10-25 feet of water for bass that are chasing bluebacks first thing. Blade Runners, swimbaits and jerkbaits are all good lures for this pattern. Then after the sun gets up head to some colored water and try cranking in some of the creeks where bass are up shallower. 

On Hartwell the spawn still appears to be a little ways off, but there are largemouth in areas leading into spawning pockets and flats, and they are grouping up on points and 45 degree banks that are adjacent. Spinnerbaits are also a good choice if the water has some color.

There are also still lots of spots than can be caught in 20-25 feet on brush.  These fish will ultimately spawn mostly on points and shoals in 10-20 feet of water where they will usually not be visible but will fall prey to a jig or shakey head dragged along the bottom. 

The hybrid and striped bass are still in similar areas on Lake Hartwell, but Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that one really big change is that they do not want down lines. Every now and then you will pick up a fish on a down line, but in general the fish seem much more interested in and aggressive towards free lines. It’s not unusual at this time of year for the fish to want to see the bait drop and to rise to take it but it is significant. 

Beyond that the water really has not changed temperatures enough to move the fish much, and while a few remain at the mouths of creeks the majority of the fish are still being found in the middle section of rivers and creeks. As the creeks warm they will move up the creeks more. The bite should also get better and right now fish are feeding but they are certainly not on fire. 

This past weekend Lake Hartwell was home to a Crappie USA Super Event, and even though the lake was cold it was notable how shallow some of the crappie were caught. Veteran tournament angler Will Hinson of Cassatt notes that the 2.8 pound tournament big fish was caught in about a foot of water, and a second place team fished caught most of their fish in 3-4 feet of water. He doesn’t believe any of the fish were terribly close to laying eggs but they were definitely up there eating.

While there are fish shallow, overall this is the time of year when Will reports that you can catch fish about any way you want. He found some under docks and bridge pilings in about 22 feet, and long-line trolling in the creeks he picked up tons of smaller crappie. However, the biggest fish seemed to relatively shallow and scattered, and to target bigger individuals Will used LiveScope technology to cast at individual fish 3-4 feet down in 7-8 feet of water in the creeks. 

Will Hinson with two big Hartwell crappie caught last weekend
Will Hinson with two big Hartwell crappie caught last weekend

As the water slightly begins to warm Captain Bill Plumley reports a moderately improved catfish bite, and he has caught some fish in 14-34 feet of water. As the water continues to warm the fish should slide shallower in the creeks and get to the point where they are again feeding daily. The fish are not showing a preference for any particular type of cut bait. 

March 5

Lake Hartwell water levels are down to 658.88 (full pool is 660.00). There is still some stained water in some creeks but overall the lake is pretty clear. Morning surface water temperatures are about 52-55 degrees. 

The biggest change this week on Lake Hartwell is the number of bass that have moved shallow, but first Guide Brad Fowler points out that there are still plenty of deep fish. His tournament partner Brock Taylor caught his three biggest (spots) last weekend in 30-35 feet of water on a blade runner, and even though shallow temperatures have changed the deep water is still basically the same. There are still lots of spots than can be caught in 20-25 feet on brush as well.  These fish will ultimately spawn mostly on points and shoals in 10-20 feet of water where they will usually not be visible but will fall prey to a jig or shakey head dragged along the bottom. 

With that said, solid numbers of largemouth are moving towards the banks.  They can be found in areas leading into spawning pockets and flats, and they are grouping up on points and 45 degree banks that are adjacent. In the next few weeks some fish will be on beds.  Soft plastics will catch fish, and in the colored water they are biting well on crankbaits and spinnerbaits. 

Patterns are very stable for hybrid and striped bass on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that numbers continue to be respectable and teenage sized fish are still being caught. They are optimistic for a better 2021 after a good start to the early spring. 

There are a few fish in the mouths of creeks but the majority of the fish are still being found in the middle section of rivers and creeks. As the creek warms they will move up the creeks more. The best patterns are fishing down-lines over points in 20-25 feet of water, but there are also starting to be some good fish caught on planer boards pulled across points near the banks. The baits are usually sitting in 10-15 feet of water when they get bit.

Chip Hamilton with a nice striper caught today
Chip Hamilton with a nice striper caught today

This week Captain Bill Plumley continues to report a sporadic catfish bite, and the water just hasn’t warmed enough where the fish need to feed every day.  The best action is still deep in about 30 feet of water, but Bill expects the fish to slide shallower in the creeks in the next couple of weeks as the water warms.  The fishing should get much better once the fish are again feeding daily.

February 26

Lake Hartwell water levels are up to 659.35 (full pool is 660.00).  There is still stained water in some creeks but overall the lake is getting clear again. Morning surface water temperatures are about 48-50 degrees. 

It’s been a better week for hybrid and striped bass on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that some good fish in the low to mid-teens have been caught this week. They are also seeing a ton of the fish on the graph, a very good sign for the fishery. Improving water clarity may have helped the bite.

There are few fish in the mouths of creeks but the majority of the fish are still being found in the middle section of rivers and creeks. As the creek warms they will move up the creeks more. The best patterns are fishing down-lines over points in 20-25 feet of water, but there are also starting to be some good fish caught on planer boards pulled across points near the banks. The baits are usually sitting in 10-15 feet of water when they get bit.

While there are certainly still plenty of bass to be caught deep on Lake Hartwell, Guide Brad Fowler reports that fish are generally starting to slide up as water temperatures start to rise and the spawn gets closer. Fish are starting to set up at the mouths of spawning areas, and Brad suggests looking at the mouths of creeks that have some colored water which warms a little faster. In the clear water a jerkbait is working well in 10-15 feet, and you can also fish a crankbait against the banks. A blade runner is also fishing well in the ditches early when there is bait. 

File this is in the “it’s called fishing for a reason” category, but this week Captain Bill Plumley reports a very tough catfish bite. One day on the water he didn’t get a single bite besides some small channels pecking at his bait. However, there have also been days where he caught several nice ones, and when a blue catfish eats it is usually a good one. 

For right now the best action is still deep in about 30 feet of water, but Bill expects the fish to slide shallower in the creeks in the next couple of weeks as the water warms. The fishing should get much better once the fish are again feeding daily.

 

February 18

Lake Hartwell water levels are up to 658.38 (full pool is 660.00).  The creeks have gotten muddy and the rivers are getting dirtier as well.  

The action for hybrid and striped bass continues to improve on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) is very optimistic that this year will be better than last year as things have already gotten off to a better start. Last year was the toughest year of fishing he has had in 27 years of guiding on the lake. 

The dirty water has messed the bite up just a little, but overall the fish are still biting pretty well and the morning action has come on (instead of fish only really getting going in the afternoon). The majority of the fish are in the middle section of rivers and creeks, and they will move up the creeks more once the water warms.  

The best patterns are fishing down-lines over points in 25-35 feet of water, but there are also starting to be some good fish caught on planer boards pulled across points near the banks. The baits are usually sitting in 10-15 feet of water when they get bit.

A young angler caught this nice hybrid with Guide Chip Hamilton
A young angler caught this nice hybrid with Guide Chip Hamilton

Captain Mack Farr points out that turbulent weather has spread the fish out right now, but he concurs that the middle parts of creeks are holding the most fish. Even if you don’t mark big schools of fish look for bait and they will be in the vicinity.

Also, continue to focus on the birds. This week they have not been a big help because they are so focused on staying out of the wind but in general they offer important clues. 

Even though there has not been a lot of heat the combination of a few sunny days and then a lot of dirty water continues to push some bass shallow, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that in the stained shallows there is still a pretty good crankbait bite. Even though fish are shallow they are not everywhere, and the best areas are steep, rocky banks with deep water access nearby. Fish will be around the mouths of creeks on both the main lake and creek side. 

The most consistent way to catch fish remains deep, though, where the fish are in the 40-50 foot range in ditches and creek channels. Again the best action is in the front of creeks, and while there are some schools as shallow as 30 feet the best numbers are still closer to 50. Brad has had the best luck fishing on the inside of timber lines where there is bait present. A variety of baits have been working and he has caught fish on football jigs and drop shots. This week spoons have also been working well. 

The catfish bite is about the same this week, and Captain Bill Plumley reminds anglers that with the water very cold the fish are not having to feed every day.  He is still finding the best action deep in at least 30 feet of water in the creeks.  A variety of cut baits will work.

February 5

Lake Hartwell water levels are down to 657.21 (full pool is 660.00). The main lake is clear but there is some stain in the backs. Water temperatures range from the upper 40s to low 50s. 

With all the recent rain there is still plenty of dirty water in the creeks, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that in the stained shallows there is still a pretty good crankbait bite. Even though fish are shallow they are not everywhere, and the best areas are steep, rocky banks with deep water access nearby. Fish will be around the mouths of creeks on both the main lake and creek side. 

The most consistent way to catch fish is still deep, though, where the fish are in the 40-50 foot range in ditches and creek channels. Again the best action is in the front of creeks, and while there are some schools as shallow as 30 feet the best numbers are still closer to 50. Brad has had the best luck fishing on the inside of timber lines where there is bait present. A variety of baits have been working and he has caught fish on football jigs and drop shots. This week spoons have also been working well. 

Check out the new Lake Hartwell Catch ’Em Kits with lures hand-picked for each season by Brad.

 A nice spot caught on a fly rod with Guide Chip Hamilton
A nice spot caught on a fly rod with Guide Chip Hamilton

The hybrid and striped bass are still in a similar pattern on Lake Hartwell, but Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that the bite has improved and they are getting much better numbers recently. Instead of struggling to scratch out a few fish, double digit trips are becoming more common. 

There are some fish being caught right at daylight in 25-35 feet of water over humps and ridges in the channels, but you have to be right on top of them. However, the best fishing by fair is coming in the afternoon and Chip really doesn’t advise getting on the water until 10 or 11, and then fishing until 4:30 or 5:00. During the warmest part of the day bait moves shallower in the same areas where fish have been holding in the channels. Casting small swimbaits and retrieving them near the bottom in 10-20 feet of water off points should produce. You can also troll umbrella rigs.   

Overall, while there are always a few fish in the dam area that move around the majority of fish are up the Seneca and Tugaloo rivers or at the mouths of creeks up those rivers. Some of the longer creeks such as Lightwood also have fish in the very backs, and generally fish are still up and/ or out. Finding the bait is key.

The catfish bite is about the same this week, and Captain Bill Plumley reminds anglers that with the water very cold the fish are not having to feed every day. He is still finding the best action deep in at least 30 feet of water in the creeks. A variety of cut baits will work.

January 21

Lake Hartwell water levels are down to 658.56 (full pool is 660.00).  The lake is clear and water temperatures run from about 48 degrees down to the mid-40s. 

While there is still a deep pattern for bass on Lake Hartwell, Guide Brad Fowler reports that with all the sunny, windy afternoons we have had recently there has been a pretty good crankbait bite. While fish will move shallow they are on steep, rocky banks since they want deep water access nearby. Fish will be around the mouths of creeks on both the main lake and creek side. 

The most consistent way to catch fish is still deep, though, where the fish are in the 40-50 foot range in ditches and creek channels. Again the best action is in the front of creeks, and while there are some schools as shallow as 30 feet the best numbers are still closer to 50. Brad has had the best look fishing on the inside of timber lines where there is bait present. A variety of baits have been working and he has caught fish on football jigs, spoons, and drop shots. 

Check out the new Lake Hartwell Catch ’Em Kits with lures hand-picked for each season by Brad.

The hybrid and striped bass are still spread out on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that while there are always a few fish in the dam area that move around the majority of fish are up the Seneca and Tugaloo rivers or at the mouths of creeks up those rivers. Some of the longer creeks such as Lightwood also have fish in the very backs, and generally fish are still up and/ or out.  Finding the bait is key.

The best place to fish down-lines is still in 25-35 feet of water over humps and ridges, but this bite remains pretty tough.  Pulling umbrella rigs across points is also a decent way to pick off some active fish, and there have been some good ones up to the 10-pound range caught this way. 

Perhaps the most exciting way to catch fish is to fish the warmest part of the day when bait moves shallower in the same areas where fish have been holding in the channels. This usually happens at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon and dies off at the latest around 4:30 or 5:00, and when this happens fish can be caught casting small swimbaits and retrieving them near the bottom in 10-20 feet of water off points. While this pattern is not on fire it offers the benefit that you can move around throwing at points instead of just waiting for down-line bites that may not come. Much of the action is with hybrids. 

The catfish bite has improved just a little this week, although Captain Bill Plumley reports that with the water very cold the fish are not having to feed every day.  He is still finding the best action deep in at least 30 feet of water in the creeks.  A variety of cut baits will work.

Captain Bill Plumley was surprised to catch this 14-pound carp while trying for bait
Captain Bill Plumley was surprised to catch this 14-pound carp while trying for bait

January 13

Lake Hartwell water levels are at 659.03 (full pool is 660.00).  While the creeks do have some color the main lake is clear. Water temperatures range from about 46-50 degrees.

The bass fishing remains good on Lake Hartwell, but Guide Brad Fowler reports that if anything the fish have gotten even deeper into the 40-50 range in ditches and creek channels. He is finding the best action in the front of creeks. Brad did find one group of fish as shallow as 30 feet, but the largest schools were close to 50. He has had the best look fishing on the inside of timber lines where there is bait present. 

A variety of baits have been working, and he has caught fish on football jigs, spoons, and drop shots. 

While Brad has also found some fish chasing bait on the surface over 30 feet of water, there is also a true shallow pattern in the dirty water in the creeks. Between the stained conditions and some very early seasonal pressures a decent number of fish have slid up and will take Shad Raps and jigs. However, for right now they will be close to deep water on something steep. If they are on a flat it will have deep water very close. 

Check out the new Lake Hartwell Catch ’Em Kits with lures hand-picked for each season by Brad.

Brad Fowler guided these young anglers to some nice spots this week
Brad Fowler guided these young anglers to some nice spots this week

The hybrid and striped bass remain in a virtually identical pattern to a week ago, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that the fish they are catching are still pretty far back in the creeks, mostly in 25-35 feet of water over humps and ridges.  Fishing is still pretty tough.

The bright spot remains that in the same areas of the creeks where they are marking fish on some afternoons the fish will pull up shallower at the warmest part of the day when bait moves shallower. This usually happens at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon and dies off at the latest around 4:30 or 5:00, and when this happens fish can be caught casting small swimbaits and retrieving them near the bottom in 10-20 feet of water. This is not a reliable pattern day-in and day-out for guides because not all of the schools do it every day, but when you find a school that moves shallower you can catch a lot of fish. 

Unfortunately, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the catfish bite has gotten really tough. The few fish he has caught have been extremely deep but they are just not biting very well.

January 6

Lake Hartwell water levels rose to within 6 inches of full pool (full pool is 660.00) with recent rains but are now back down to 658.98.  After the recent rains the water got dirty in some of the creeks but the main lake remains clear. Water temperatures range from the uppers 40s to about 50 degrees. 

The bass fishing remains good on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that they are still catching them pretty well in the 30-40 foot range in ditches and creek channels. Fish are relating to steep drops as well as bait schools, and you can catch them on spoons or drop shot rigs. They can also be caught dragging a jig or shakey head worm. This pattern is likely to stay good until fish start to think about coming up for the spawn. 

Even though water temperatures have cooled off, with some color in the creeks a shallow pattern is also in play and some fish are being caught on small crankbaits around rock. 

Check out the new Lake Hartwell Catch ’Em Kits with lures hand-picked for each season by Brad.

While it’s not a tournament pattern, Captain Bill Plumley reports that you can also pick up spotted bass on minnows even deeper in 40-70 feet of water in deep ditches. At that depth you will encounter a mixed bag as perch and catfish have also gone deep. You can still hope to catch a blue cat in the same range, but like most species they don’t feed as much when water temperatures hit 50 and below.

Out of the lake and into the freezer!
Out of the lake and into the freezer!

 

The hybrid and striped bass remain in a similar pattern in most ways, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that the fish they are catching are still pretty far back in the creeks, mostly in 25-35 feet of water over humps and ridges.  While that bite is still pretty slow, a pattern that usually only starts in February and March has also emerged.

In the same areas of the creeks where they are marking fish on some afternoons the fish will pull up shallower at the warmest part of the day when bait moves shallower. This usually happens at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon and dies off at the latest around 4:30 or 5:00, and when this happens fish can be caught casting small swimbaits and retrieving them near the bottom in 10-20 feet of water. This is not a reliable pattern day-in and day-out for guides because not all of the schools do it every day, but when you find a school that moves shallower you can catch a lot of fish. 

On the crappie front, Captain Bill advises fishing in 18-25 feet of water around deep docks and brush in the creek channels with minnows.

December 18

Lake Hartwell water levels are at 658.08 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures are down to about 56 degrees. The lake is clear in most places but some of the creeks have color. 

Right on schedule, Guide Brad Fowler reports that Lake Hartwell bass are starting to settle into a winter pattern. There are some fish still on shallower brush, but mostly he is finding them in the 30-40 foot range in ditches and creek channels.  They are relating to steep drops but also to bait schools, and you can catch them on spoons or drop shot rigs. They can also be caught dragging a jig or shakey head worm. 

While Brad hasn’t been fishing a shallower pattern himself, the lake is still pretty warm and so he knows some fish are still being caught shallow on small crankbaits around rock. 

While hybrid and striped bass are not exactly jumping in the boat, Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that they are filling in with enough spotted bass to keep everyone happy. Getting 8-10 spots in 35-39 feet of water on minnows is pretty typical. 

As for why the striper fishing isn’t better it’s still a bit of a mystery, but the long drawn-out turnover didn’t help. The striper and hybrids they are catching are still pretty far back in the creeks, mostly in 25-35 feet of water over humps and ridges. But they are very spooky, and after they catch a couple of hybrids and striper out of a mixed school only the spots, perch and catfish continue to bite. 

Even though water temperatures have dropped they have not yet pulled out to the mid-river areas they frequent later in the winter. 

You have to be willing to fish deep to catch catfish on Lake Hartwell, but Captain Bill Plumley reports that the blues have turned on and they are also catching some channels.  The fish he has caught have been in 72-77 feet of water, and he is fishing clean areas without timber in the river channels.  A variety of cut baits are working.

A healthy blue catfish caught out of the Lake Hartwell depths this week
A healthy blue catfish caught out of the Lake Hartwell depths this week

November 24

Lake Hartwell water levels are down to 657.75 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures are down to about 64. The lake is clear. 

For the first time in almost a year water levels are down more than two feet below full pool, and perhaps not coincidentally Guide Brad Fowler reports that tournament bass weights have gone way up in recent tournaments and more largemouth are showing up. It seems that bass are setting up on stuff that is easier to target as they don’t have as much flooded water to get in.  Buzzbaits and spinnerbaits are both working better around visible cover.

Fish are also starting to get in ditches and creeks as they pull water, and in 25-40 feet spoons, shakey heads and blade runners are starting to work. Of course, fish can still be caught out on main lake points and brush piles with spoons and drop shots.

Spotted bass can also be caught on herring or long-lined minnows just as if you are crappie fishing.  Spots are feeding very well right now.

The hybrid and striped bass fishing continues to improve as temperatures drop, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that as birds show up they are starting to provide clues to where the bait is. However, they are mostly on shallower threadfin right now while most of the herring is still very deep.

Chip has been marking some very large schools of herring recently, and generally striper and spotted bass are mixed in with these schools. He is still finding the best action on humps and ridges in the main creeks and rivers, and they can be half-way back or even further. Right now the fish are about as far back as they will get in the fall, and when water temperatures drop to about 60 they will make their way back to the mid-rivers. Most of the river fish are related to the bottom in about 25-35 feet of water. There are also plenty of fish in the mid-lake still at similar depths. 

Even though the bite is still not on fire, it seems to really be helping that most of the area stores are carrying smaller herring right now. 

A hungry striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton
A hungry striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton

It’s a really good time to catch catfish on Lake Hartwell, and Captain Bill Plumley reports that channel catfish, blue cats and flatheads are all biting well right now. 

Channel catfish are scattered all over the place and feeding well on everything from worms to chicken livers, with 10-30 feet the most productive depth range. They are also catching blues in the same areas, particularly with cut bait. In areas where you can drift that is the best approach.

The flathead bite is also at its annual peak with water temperatures about perfect, and while you can catch fish anchoring live bait off the points with so much erosion this year there are tons of trees down everywhere.  The flatheads are hanging around the tree tops and particularly at night shallow is often the best place to look.

November 12

Lake Hartwell water levels are just below full pool at 659.73 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures are around 68-70 degrees. The lake remains pretty clear. 

The Lake Hartwell bass continue to be pounded by tournament pressure this fall, and fresh off a week on the lake practicing and then a 16th place finish in the 141-boat ABA Ray Scott Championship Guide Brad Fowler can report that that the fishing is pretty tough.  Catching numbers of fish is easy, but quality is very difficult. About 12 pounds per day was good enough for the win. 

Brad did catch a few decent fish on topwater, and he saw some little ones schooling, but almost everything he weighed came on a drop shot. Some of the fish came from his winter holes in 40 plus feet of water, while most were on deeper brush in 25 feet. Some days Brad caught 40 fish but catching size was always a challenge.

There were some reports that better largemouth were caught shallow, but in hours of throwing a buzzbait around the bank Brad only had some small spots blow up on it. A few fish were apparently caught flipping wood.

Tournament angler Joe Anders of Easley reports that he also couldn’t get anything going shallow on his way to a 7th place finish in the Ray Scott Championship, but while he caught a few fish on a drop shot he was more successful backing up and casting at them. He would see fish schooling over natural timber in 35 feet of water or less, mark the school, and then make a long cast with a ½ ounce Rooster Tail and let it drop to 20-25 feet before retrieving it. While most of the fish were in the 1.25 pound range he caught several 3 pound fish this way. The small bait seemed to work best since the fish are on very small shad. 

Joe Anders with a nice bag last weekend
Joe Anders with a nice bag last weekend

It’s still not easy but the hybrid and striped bass fishing remains better than it was earlier this fall, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that they are catching 12-20 fish on better trips now – and a bad trip usually sees at least half a dozen fish in the boat. 

Overall fish are still on humps and ridges in the main creeks and rivers, and they can be half-way back or even further. Right now they are about as far back as they will get in the fall and when water temperatures drop to about 60 they will make their way back to the mid-rivers.  The fish are generally related to the bottom in about 25-35 feet of water, and while they are still on small bait the stores are carrying small herring and so this has not been a problem. 

There is a bit of schooling activity but it is mostly small spotted bass.

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still pretty good in 5-20 feet of water in the creeks on worms, but the channel catfish have generally gone a little deeper into 15-20 feet. 

The best catfish bite continues to be with the flatheads, and as water temperatures start to approach the mid-60s the best fishing of the whole year will be found. You can catch fish anchoring live bait off the points, but with so much erosion this year there are tons of trees down everywhere and the flatheads are hanging around the tree tops. Particularly at night shallow is often the best place to look.

There are also some blue catfish moving shallower, particularly at night, while during the day they are still out in the 30-foot timber. 

October 23

Lake Hartwell water levels have dropped to a “mere” 661.13 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures are down to the low 70s. The lake remains pretty clear. 

There is some better news with the hybrid and striped bass fishing on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that instead of struggling to catch a few fish they are regularly catching some mixed bags (including bass, perch, and catfish) that include a dozen or more striper and hybrids. Fish seem to be moving up all the creeks, and Chip’s boat has found them at the same point in a couple of creeks where other guides are reporting similar results in others. The fish seem to be about halfway back the creeks and each morning they are in 25-28 feet of water on clean bottoms around humps and points. In the later morning they usually move out to about the 30-35 foot depth range, a typical October pattern. There are a few fish suspended, and lots of spots, but mostly the striper are on the bottom.

There has also been some schooling in the evening in the same areas, but the fish are on small bait and so they will only eat extremely small artificial lures. Very small Rattle Traps, ¼ ounce Rooster Tails, and similar lures will work.

While there are plenty of spotted bass and largemouth to be caught on Lake Hartwell, the better fish continue to be elusive. The suspended bite has picked up a little, and a drop shot or shakey head will also work around offshore brush for numbers of fish. There are also lots of schooling fish, and while these have generally been smaller some better ones are mixed in.

With water levels very high again it’s also worth working the banks with a buzzbait or Whopper Plopper and trying to get a better bite. 

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still pretty good in 5-20 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but the catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more.

The best catfish action right now is with the flatheads, though, and as water temperatures start to approach the mid-60s the best fishing of the whole year will be found. You can catch fish anchoring live bait off the points, but with so much erosion this year there are tons of trees down everywhere and the flatheads are hanging around the tree tops. Particularly at night shallow is often the best place to look.

A nice Hartwell flathead caught with Captain Bill Plumley
A nice Hartwell flathead caught with Captain Bill Plumley

October 7

Lake Hartwell water levels are back down to 659.90 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures have dropped to about 73 degrees. For the first time in a long time the lake has gone a week without rain, and so the water is very clear. Overall the regions’s annual rainfall is 26 inches above normal!

Fresh off a second place performance in a major multi-day team tournament, Guide Brad Fowler knows what the fish are up to about as well as anyone. He reports they are catching plenty of fish, but the big ones are elusive right now. About a pound cost them $50,000, and anyone who can find a 4 or 5-pounder has really done something!

The topwater suspended bite around cane that was so prominent in the Eastern Open has pretty much died out, and what they are catching now is coming on a drop shot or shakey head around offshore brush. A few fish are being caught around the bank, and when they were looking for a big one around docks they saw some random fish come up schooling.  One of these schooling fish weighed but it is not a widespread pattern. 

Between the Eastern Open, the PBC Classic, and much more Hartwell has been beat to death, and the pressure may account for the tough bite to some degree. The lake turning over also hasn’t helped, but even before that big fish were hard to locate.  

Derrick Bridges and David Whyte with the last bag of their 39.09 3-day total to win the PBC Classic
Derrick Bridges and David Whyte with the last bag of their 39.09 3-day total to win the PBC Classic

This week there is not a lot of good stuff to say about the hybrid and striped bass, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that the fishing continues to be downright tough. As water temperatures have dropped a few fish are being caught up the rivers as they migrate that way, and they are generally off main creek points on the bottom in 30-35 feet of water. Down-lines have been the best way to catch them.  

Overall it’s not entirely clear why the fishing is staying so tough. The population of fish seems to be a little down, but they are marking enough fish that the bite seems to have dropped too much for that to explain it. Perhaps they have been heavily pressured this year, perhaps they are on small bait, and perhaps there are water quality issues. Captain Bill Plumley notes that he find the striper fishing is off most years when water levels are extremely high – as they have been this year.

Regardless, October and November can be two of the best months on the lake and so there is hope that a better bite is on the way. 

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still pretty good in 5-20 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but the catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more.

Blues are out deep but the night fishing for flatheads is very good on points with live bait.  With water temperatures in the lower 70s the fish are active, moving and hungry.

September 22

Lake Hartwell water levels have risen to 660.82 (full pool is 660.00) while water temperatures have dropped substantially to about 76 degrees. The water is still very clear. 

It’s a zoo on Lake Hartwell right now, and Guide Brad Fowler (himself a competitor) reports that the lake is covered with anglers pre-fishing for the Bassmaster Eastern Open starting tomorrow.  With well over 200 boats the fishing pressure is as bad as Brad has ever seen it and it’s a merry-go-round of anglers all trying to graph and fish the same offshore points, humps, brush piles and cane piles where conventional wisdom expects that the tournament will be won. While some anglers report that they have found a pretty good offshore topwater bite, others have found the action lacking. The same can be said for offshore fishing on drop shots and shakey heads. Other anglers report seeing a lot schooling activity, but Brad has seen very little.

The other way the tournament could be won is shallow, and somebody may catch them on a buzzbait or Whopper Plopper around the banks.  Or at least catch the big kickers they need. 

There is finally some good news on the hybrid and striped bass, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that as water temperatures have cooled they have started to catch a few more fish. It’s not a great improvement yet, but there is every reason to think it will only continue to get better. 

There are essentially two patterns right now, and one group of fish is moving up the rivers where they can be caught on down-lines fished around main river points. The fish are about 35 feet deep on the bottom. 

There is also another group of fish that is still down by the dam, and they can be caught around main lake points in about 40 feet of water. Some are on clean ridges near trees and structure, and they all seem to be relating to the bigger coves. Some of the fish are on the bottom, but others are up off the bottom and will come up to to take a free-line. 

A couple of striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton
A couple of striper caught this week with Guide Chip Hamilton

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still pretty good in 6-14 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but the catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more. 

September 14

Lake Hartwell water levels have risen to 660.41 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures remain in the lower 80s. The water is still very clear. 

Even though fishing is still a little tough there are some seasonal changes starting to take place with the bass on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Brad Fowler reports that in particular he is starting to see more schooling activity. At times the fish are over very deep water, and they are basically just following schools of very small baitfish. Sometimes they are no more than an inch long. Small plugs, little scrounger heads and small swimbaits can all work.

The topwater bite off points and over brush has also picked up a little, and of course you can still catch fish on drop shots or shakey heads around offshore brush in 20-40 feet of water.

Early in the morning you can pick up a bite throwing a buzzbait shallow, but with the lake well over full there is so much shallow cover that it can be hard to locate the fish. Also, for some reason there do not seem to be a lot of bream up right now and so at times the shallows seem a little dead. 

Fishing for hybrid and striped bass remains off on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that even though some seasonal changes are occurring the fishing is still tough. 

As with the bass the best news is that some schooling activity is starting to take place, but as would be expected from the way this summer has gone on Hartwell the fish are very hard to catch. Like the bass they are on small bait, which is not unusual for fall, but they often won’t take small rubber jigs, little white Rooster Tails, the smallest flukes or any of the other baits they will usually eat. 

Overall fish remain in the same depths they have been at, usually about 40-45 feet down over 75-125 feet of water (although they will run bait shallower when schooling). They are hardly taking down-lines and the few fish that do bite are most likely to come up to take a free-line. They are also still moving a lot. 

A nice striper caught recently with Guide Chip Hamilton
A nice striper caught recently with Guide Chip Hamilton

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker is still pretty good in 6-14 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but the catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more. 

The bite for bigger fish remains off, however, and Bill has put in a lot of time with live bait for flatheads or bigger blues with very little to show for it.  Water quality seems to be an issue.

September 11

Lake Hartwell water levels are barely above full pool at 660.16 (full pool is 660.00) and water temperatures have cooled a few more degrees to 82-84. The water remains very clear. 

Fishing for hybrid and striped bass remains off on Lake Hartwell, and Guide Chip Hamilton (864-304-9011) reports that even though some seasonal changes are occurring the fishing is still tough. 

The good news is that some schooling activity is starting to take place, but as would be expected from the way this summer has gone on Hartwell the fish are very hard to catch. They are on small bait, which is not unusual for fall, but they won’t take small rubber jigs, little white Rooster Tails, the smallest flukes or any of the other baits they will usually eat. 

Overall fish remain in the same depths they have been at, usually about 40-45 feet down over 75-125 feet of water (although they will run bait shallower when schooling). They are hardly taking down-lines and the few fish that do bite are most likely to come up to take a free-line. They are also still moving a lot. 

A fish definitely worth smiling about caught recently with Chip Hamilton
A fish definitely worth smiling about caught recently with Chip Hamilton

On the catfish front, Captain Bill Plumley reports that the action for smaller channel catfish and shellcracker has picked up a little in 6-14 feet of water in the creeks. He is catching the fish on worms, but catfish will eat a wide array of baits including dip baits, cut bait and more. 

The bite for bigger fish remains off, however, and Bill has put in a lot of time with live bait for flatheads or bigger blues with very little to show for it. Water quality seems to be an issue. 

Bass report to follow.



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